Turkey’s capital Ankara attracts just a fraction of the tourists that head to its better-known cousin, Istanbul. Sitting in Turkey’s central Anatolia region, the cosmopolitan city is one of Europe’s relatively unexplored tourist destinations. But is Ankara worth visiting? We think so.
A treasure trove of ancient architecture, historical wonders and culinary delights, Ankara makes for a lively city break. From discovering artifacts of ancient civilizations, to sinking your teeth into a sizzling kebab, any trip to Ankara promises a range of unforgettable experiences, sights, and sensations.
If you’re deliberating on a trip to the Turkish capital, let us convince you. We’ve put together a list of the seven top reasons why Ankara is absolutely worth visiting.
You can discover artifacts from ancient civilizations
Ankara has been home to a whole host of ancient civilizations. Long before the nation of Turkey existed, Ankara was the capital of the ancient Celtic state of Galatia. Since then, it’s been home to Roman, Greek, Persian, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. The remains of these historical civilizations are buried deep within Ankara’s streets, and there’s nowhere better to marvel at the city’s outstanding heritage than in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
Housed in a restored Ottoman caravanserai (roadside inns along The Silk Road), this museum is home to a world-leading selection of archaeological treasures. From 8,000-year-old statues from Çatal Höyük, the world’s ‘first’ city, to coin collections dating back to the first minted money, the museum is full of rare cultural treasures from ancient eras. With collections arranged in chronological order, a trip to the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations is truly like walking through time. A must-see for any visitors to Ankara, this museum is absolutely not to be missed!
It’s a foodie’s paradise
Foodies, listen up. Ankara is worth visiting for its food scene alone. As you would probably expect, kebabs feature heavily on the menu. But not just any old kebabs, lip-smackingly delicious doner, cooked over an open wood fire, served in freshly baked bread. And the city’s culinary prowess doesn’t stop there. Despite its landlocked position, Ankara has an abundance of surprisingly delicious seafood restaurants. You just can’t go wrong with fresh seasonal fish, served grilled, with a selection of salads and a glass of raki.
Then, of course, you have your mezze spots, serving up vast, crowd-pleasing platters of hummus, falafel, roasted vegetables, yogurt-based dips, and copious amounts of bread. It would be rude not to finish your meal with a mouthful of syrup-drenched baklava (we hear Hacibaba’s are the best) and a viscous Turkish coffee. The milk pudding is another regional highlight, and Zeynel is rumored to have the best in Ankara. In short, Ankara is a city of many flavors. It’s the perfect destination for a tastebud-tingling culinary adventure.
You can learn all about the founding of Turkey
The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 by Kemal Ataturk, a revolutionary statesman, author, and the country’s first president. Ataturk is extremely important to the Turkish people, particularly the people of Ankara, as it was his decision to proclaim Ankara as the capital of Turkey. His legacy looms large over the city in the form of The Ataturk Shrine National Museum (also called Anıtkabir).
This national museum, housing the tomb of Ataturk, is one of the most important landmarks in Ankara. Sat on an area of 750,000 square meters, this extravagant tomb and memorial make for an impressive sight. Any trip to Ankara would be incomplete without visiting the museum and learning more about the fascinating history of the nation of Turkey.
It’s home to one of the pinnacles of Islamic architecture
Situated in the heart of Ankara, Kocatepe Mosque is considered by many to be a pinnacle of Islamic architecture. Built in the neo-classical Ottoman style, the mosque is a sight of great beauty, attracting visitors from all over the world. It’s hard not to feel at peace when gazing up at the domes and spires of this magnificent place of worship.
With a capacity of 100,000 people, this is also the largest mosque in the city. Whether you’re religious or not, a trip to Kocatepe Mosque just to witness the architecture is a truly fulfilling experience. We recommend heading here at night, when the mosque is illuminated against the night sky, making for a truly magical photo.
There are many beautiful parks to explore
Ankara is awash with green spaces that make the perfect setting for an evening stroll or an afternoon off from busy sight-seeing itineraries. One of the oldest and most famous parks in Ankara is Youth Park. With a beautiful selection of trees and flowers, this park has plenty of shady spots to seek shelter from the Turkish sun and enjoy a healthy spot of people watching. The grounds are also home to The Ankara Metropolitan Municipality Theater, as well as an extensive children’s park, making it a great spot for family outings.
The 50th Year Park is another one of Ankara’s beautiful parks. Spanning 50,000 square meters, there’s plenty to discover, from luscious gardens featuring waterfalls, to plenty of cafés and numerous playgrounds. Finally, Kuğulu Park in the city center is another lovely park. Located just off the busy Tunalı Hilmi street where locals do their shopping, it’s a great spot for an evening stroll.
It’s a center for the performing arts
From opera to ballet, if you’re a fan of the performing arts, Ankara is worth visiting. The city is buzzing with cultural venues showcasing the best of the country’s talent in music, dance, theatre, and more. Whether you fancy catching some opera at the Ankara opera house, or taking in some live music in a more low-key environment, there’s guaranteed to be some kind of performing arts to suit your tastes in Ankara.
Head here in the month of April and you’ll likely encounter the International Ankara Music Festival. A must-see for fans of live performance, the festival’s program spans the likes of jazz, chamber music, modern dance, flamenco, and more, with opening and closing concerts by the Turkish Presidential Symphony Orchestra a particular highlight.
It’s not a tourist trap
Our final reason why Ankara is worth visiting is simple: it’s not heaving with tourists. While the better-known Turkish city of Istanbul attracts around 1.2 million tourists per month, Ankara generally receives just 56,000 visitors. This makes it a great destination for travelers who’d prefer to escape the crowds and experience a more authentic side of Turkish life. This also means that it’s a relatively cheap place to visit. In fact, the cost of living in Ankara is 13% cheaper than Istanbul, with prices for food, drinks, and accommodation typically lower.
This isn’t’ to say, however, that Ankara is totally without its touristy zones. As you’d probably expect, the streets of the Old Quarter are lined with plenty of overpriced restaurants and street sellers touting souvenirs and trinkets. While it’s fun to stroll these cobbled streets, we’d recommend heading to the trendy neighborhood of Kizilay in downtown Ankara to eat – you’re more likely to find a good deal.
So all in all, is Ankara worth visiting? For us, the answer is a firm yes – and we reckon you’ll think so too!
Is Ankara expensive?
Compared with other European tourist hubs, Ankara is a relatively inexpensive city to visit – you can expect to pay around $60 a day here. It’s around $27 per night for a hotel room for one, while meals for one day will probably set you back around $22. For taxis, buses and other transport, you can expect to pay around $9 per day.
Of course, if you’re really thrifty you can do it much cheaper: beds in hostel dorms can cost under $10 per night, while you can get a tasty kebab for lunch or dinner for as little as $2. With a trip to Istanbul typically racking up costs of around $93 per day, Ankara is certainly the more pocket-friendly destination.
How many days do you need in Ankara?
With such a vast selection of museums, archaeological sites, mosques, parks, and performing arts venues to discover, you could easily spend a week or more getting to know Ankara. However, three to four days is easily enough time for a whistle-stop tour of the city, especially if you’re tight for time and only want to see the highlights.
What is the best time of year to visit Ankara?
The summers in Ankara can get pretty stifling, so spring is the best time of year to visit Ankara – especially if you don’t do well in the heat. Not only is the weather warm, but not too hot, but it’s also festival season. Thanks to the International Ankara Music Festival, there are live performances every day during the month of April, lending the city’s streets a lively, celebratory atmosphere that makes the perfect backdrop to any holiday.
Wondering what sort of wildlife you might expect to see in Ankara? Check out our guide to the most dangerous animals in Turkey!